Tag: Erie County Holding Center

Tolbert / Glushefski Announce Plan to Audit Sheriff Howard for Over $2.5 Million in Legal Defense Costs /Questionable Overtime Policies

Erie County, NY October 11, 2017— Candidate for Erie County Sheriff, Bernie Tolbert, and Candidate for Erie County Comptroller, Vanessa Glushefski, announced a joint plan to audit the Erie County Sheriff’s Office for the extensive litigation and associated costs to taxpayers of defending Howard’s 12-year tenure in court, and for questionable overtime practices that have contributed to wrongful death and other lawsuits involving the county jails.

“We know that 22 people have died in the county jails under Tim Howard’s leadership. That is the human cost that our county has paid for 12 years of Tim Howard being in charge,” Tolbert stated. “What we don’t fully know is the dollar cost to the taxpayers and residents of Erie County. The best estimates of known lawsuits against the sheriff suggest that the county has spent at least $2.5 million to defend Howard’s mismanagement. That doesn’t account for numerous other lawsuits that have been filed but whose details have not been disclosed. And it doesn’t account for the major wrongful death lawsuits now underway in the Richard Metcalf and India Cummings deaths. It is reasonable to believe that the overall legal-related costs to Erie County may be as much as $4 million. We need to find out for sure. That’s why I am standing here with Vanessa today, to let the taxpayers of Erie County know that when we are elected and take office in January I will fully support her audit of the Sheriff’s Office and the jails as a top priority.”

Glushefski stated, “When 22 people –mothers, fathers, sons, daughters –can die within our holding center, when the DOJ issues reports citing serious concerns, and when Erie County residents feel they can no longer trust the department charged with making our community safer, there is a real problem. Holding Center detainees are innocent until proven guilty. These individuals died largely preventative deaths while awaiting their trials. This is inexcusable. We have a tool at our disposal, a system of checks and balances, but the incumbent has refused to perform an audit on the department, choosing party over people. Beginning on November 8th, I will lay the groundwork to perform a comprehensive compliance and finance audit of the department. I will not stand silent as more families lose their loved ones. We will weed out corruption, waste, and mismanagement, to save the lives of our neighbors.”

Tolbert also addressed questionable overtime policies in the Sheriff’s Office. “Two things are evident from the testimony of sheriff’s deputies in the Richard Metcalf lawsuit,” said Tolbert: “jail personnel are poorly trained and they are being pushed beyond their capacity. This combination is a recipe for disaster. It has deadly consequences, erodes staff morale, and contributes to huge, unplanned financial burdens on taxpayers. As sheriff, I will completely review and overhaul the training and overtime policies in the department. We need to give the men and women of the Sheriff’s Office the tools they need to be the best they can be and to carry out their responsibilities with professionalism and pride.”

Tolbert Statement on Sheriff Howard’s Jail Management Accreditation Announcement

Accreditation of the Erie County Sheriff’s Jail Management Division from the New York State Sheriff’s Association, of which Tim Howard is a member and which is not a government oversight agency, is nice—but it is not enough.

Truthfully, it should have been pursued twelve years ago.

Further, it doesn’t address the concerns of the U.S. Justice Department’s investigation into the pattern of unexplained deaths at the holding center, the most recent of which occurred in July.

It doesn’t address the New York State Commission of Correction’s concerns issued this summer about the sheriff disguising suicides as “inmate disturbances” or delaying emergency medical crews from attending to medical emergencies in the correctional facility.

It doesn’t answer the question raised by the just recently disclosed testimony of sheriff’s deputies in the Richard Metcalf homicide trial, “why are Erie County Sheriff’s Deputies not appropriately trained?”

Today’s announcement by Sheriff Howard is another of his growing list of efforts to draw our attention away from his appalling record over three terms and twelve years:

  • Twenty-two deaths in the jails from homicide and medical neglect, as well as suicide.
  • Seven hundred opioid deaths in Erie County since 2015.
  • A gun homicide rate on pace to set a new record in 2017.
  • Poor or non-existent training of his deputies, the hard-working men and women who manage our jails, watch our roads and guard our communities.
  • A toxic political environment fueled by speeches at rallies for racists, bigots, and extremists.

These are the issues Tim Howard must confront but is trying desperately to avoid.

Residents of Erie County should ask themselves if they feel any safer as a result of Tim Howard’s announcement?

More to the point, would they feel better as a result of his announcement if, God forbid, one of their family members were picked up tonight by sheriff’s deputies and taken to the holding center?

Left and Right Agree on Reforming Bail Practices

This opinion piece by Republican Senator Rand Paul and Democratic Senator Kamala Harris calls for reforming bail practices that unfairly penalize the poor in favor of using factors other than money to determine how long someone must spend in jail after arrest and before trial.

It would be good to know how many of the 22 inmates who have died in Sheriff Howard’s jail were unable to make bail for lack of funds, thereby criminalizing poverty.

When elected sheriff I will support this bi-partisan approach to better law enforcement practices and look for ways to advance them further.

Transparency, Accountability and the Need for Change

The grim tally of deaths in Erie County jails has increased again with the confirmed suicide of a reportedly distraught inmate. We don’t yet know the circumstances, why, apart from being held on “drug charges,” the deceased was incarcerated, or whether he had prior arrests or known mental health issues.

This trend and the lack of a real plan to address it must change. It must change now. It is long past time for Tim Howard to go. That’s why I am running for Sheriff. I will bring the change we need.

What is especially troubling about this latest death is the sheriff’s refusal to release to the public detailed information about the circumstances of the tragedy. The lack of transparency and accountability is part of the dysfunction and mismanagement of the county jails under Tim Howard, which continues to have tragic and unjust consequences for our community.

There is no more damning indication of mismanagement and dysfunction than unnecessary and negligent death. The manager of any other operation with Tim Howard’s track record — a coach, a store manager, the operator of an amusement ride for children—-would have been dismissed for incompetence long ago.

Sheriff Howard talks of the new measures he’s adopted in the jails and speaks of plans to improve the handling of inmates with drug or mental health problems. But how many deaths must the people of Erie County tolerate before making the necessary changes?

It is time for more than new measures and plans that adjust things on the margin of the problem. Our community deserves wholesale change in the culture of managing the county jails. I offer that change through an entirely new approach based on my experience as a senior official in the FBI and a private security executive for the NBA and major corporations, as well as my training as a social worker.

1)     Provide better training for deputies and staff in dealing with drug users and those with mental health issues.

2)     Improve monitoring of inmates with mental health challenges, suspected or already identified.

3) Enhance the presence of mental health professionals in the jails capable of assisting deputies and staff in making proper assessments of individuals and providing the correct care.

4) Immediately institute a policy of public transparency and accountability. No more mysteries about what is happening in the jails. No more sweeping bad news under the rug or dismissing tragedies by saying, “these things happen.”

5)  Above all, change the culture in the jails. The sheriff needs to be present at the Holding Center and the Correctional Facility on a regular basis. He needs to lead. The sheriff needs to provide training and moral support to the staff and needs to report to the public how, as a team, the jails are being managed.

Without that level of involvement on the part of the sheriff, the county jail system will continue to fail our community and be a national disgrace to Erie County.

Tim Howard must do better, and so must we.